What Is A Key Date Wheat Penny?

In the world of coin collections, many terms have been created to express the variations and rarity of certain types of coins. The term Key Date refers to a particular date in a series of coins that is more rare than other coins belonging to the same series. This may refer simply to the date, or to the date and the mint mark–which is the first letter of the city where the coin was minted. Even just a small difference or slight variation in a coin of a particular series may make a large difference in the value of a particular coin.

Because collecting coins involves such a wide array of subjects, many collectors want to compile pieces within a certain series of coin that they prefer. There are times when some of the specific coins within a series are more difficult to obtain because of various factors. This makes them Key Date coins. Some of the distinguishing elements which make a coin more rare to find in mint condition include poor striking of a certain year, lower mintages, variations of metals within the same grouping, or dates which may have been worn severely without many collectors to protect those coins. The more uncommon a particular year in a series, the more valuable it is.

As for coins with Key Dates, Wheat Pennies circulated in the United States are no exception. All of the pennies with the wheat symbol were minted from 1909 until 1958. These US pennies may also be known as the wheat back penny or the Lincoln Wheat Cent. These pennies were produced beginning in 1909 to honor the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday. This was the first coin minted in the United States that contained the representation of a real person’s image.

One Key Date Wheat Penny is from this era is the 1909-S.  It contains the uncommon marking of the letters V.D.B between the stems of the wheat at the bottom of the back side of the penny. This marking was a tribute to Victor David Brenner, the artist whose work was responsible for the base design of the Lincoln head penny. This design is a significant recognizable symbol for the United States, however most Americans do not know who created it. Brenner was commissioned by Theodore Roosevelt following an artist’s sitting with him.

A 1922 Wheat Penny is rare because it doesn’t contain the mint mark set with the date, rendering it a Key Date piece. It was standard at the time for a lowercase letter to sit below the date to indicate the mint from which it came. These 1922 pennies struck in Denver are missing this information and therefore are considered rare among US Penny collectors. Now a capital letter representing the mint location is stamped to the right of the date.

Some of the most uncommon and most valuable US coins ever sold are the 1943 US Wheat Pennies which were erroneously minted on bronze planchets instead of the steel blanks of that year. Because of World War II, the United States had decided that the 1943 pennies would be minted on zinc plated steel in order to save the precious copper for ammunition use for the war. A handful of pennies, however, were mistakenly minted on leftover copper planchets from 1942, making them very rare and valuable today. These pennies have sold for up to $1.7 million and are now part of Robert Simpson’s collection of three “Copper Lincolns,” one from each mint in production during during 1943.

A List of Key Date Wheat Pennies:

1909-S V.D.B.



1922 (No D)


1943 Copper

1944 Steel

1955/55 Double Die

A double die coin is considered a Key Date coin. Double die coins are unique because there was a mistake in the die hubbing process which caused a shadow or another full imprint of an image. In the case of the 1955 Wheat Pennies, the numeral fives were noticeably struck with a double die. Other US Lincoln pennies with this same issue are from the years 1972 and 1995, though these are not wheat pennies they are still Key Dates from their particular series.

If you happen to find a Wheat Penny in your possession, it would be worth checking the date against the list before spending it. If you find a 1943 or 1944 Wheat Penny, using a magnet to check its metal content is easy. Steel will stick to the magnet, but copper will not. The value of those particular coins are almost priceless.  If your coin does turn out to be a Key Date penny, it could be valuable and is definitely worth taking to a local coin shop to have it viewed by a professional.

Saturday, June 1st, 2013 Blog No Comments

Will The U.S. Penny Be Discontinued?

Rumors go round and round about the future of the US penny. Nostalgics hate the idea that there would be no new pennies put into circulation. Practical people love the idea of streamlining the cash process by ridding their pockets of the annoying “worthless” coins. Vending machines, parking meters, and most toll booths will not accept pennies because it is not worth the hassle. Even military bases outside of the United States discontinued using pennies several decades ago citing that they are too heavy to ship.

With Canada, New Zealand, and Australia having already phased out use of their one cent coins without significant adverse effects to their economies, many believe it is only a matter of time until the Lincoln head coin will see its final days. Ultimately, however, to end the minting of the United States’ smallest valued coin, it would take an act of Congress. Literally. And so far the bills that have been presented to the branches of government have not passed.

President Obama rides on the practical side of the fence, believing that the penny is not used enough to be worth the effort and cost of making it. He also realizes, however, that Americans are attached to the US penny and some of the decision may simply be based upon that. The President has conceded that if such a bill to discontinue production of the penny was passed, he would agree to its implementation.

The decision to end use of the US penny would be based upon more than just a question of convenience. There are many economic, logistical, and political considerations for those defending or debunking the use of the penny. The mint in Denver produces most of the pennies that are being made currently, and discontinuing that would certainly have a negative impact on the economy of the city. It would take a great deal of adjustment to balance out the effect that ceasing penny production might have.

Some people who believe the penny should be discontinued realize that its worth has dwindled rapidly. Even in 1857 when the 1/2 cent was discontinued in the US, it was worth at least ten times what  the penny is worth to the average consumer today. In circulation, a nickel is now worth about what a penny was over 40 years ago. The fact that it costs more to produce a penny (over 2 cents) than a penny is actually worth indicates the rate of inflation over many years. Until the mid 1980s pennies were actually made from mostly copper, but since then they have been minted from zinc plated with copper in order to keep costs down.

Organizations and lobbyists have been active in an effort to draw attention to this issue, either for or against the penny. While some people believe that charities who collect pennies will be adversely affected, others claim that the charities will simply move to collecting nickels instead.

Most people think it would just be easier to create a system to round cash purchases up or down and give change in multiples of five with nickels, dimes, or quarters. That creates the concern, in some opinions, that there will be a higher demand for nickels; nickels also currently cost more than double their actual value to produce. There are also those who believe that rounding purchases out would mean more cost for consumers, but countries who have done this in the past have been able to implement systems fair for both consumers and businesses. Other people worry that the practical side of removing the penny from circulation would create accounting and bookkeeping difficulties related to computer software.

Many coin collectors seem to be of the opinion that the decision to remove the US penny is not far off and they are anticipating what this could mean for the coin collection industry. Recently a coin collector paid $1 million for the purchase of one erroneously minted penny from 1943. Discontinuing pennies completely would certainly impact US coin collectors by creating a whole new set of coins that are no longer in production. This doesn’t immediately render them rare or valuable, but it could change the rate at which pennies are circulated therefore decreasing the wear and tear on the coins simply from daily use.

So far, however, there are no immediate plans in the works to end the use of this beloved, collectible, American icon. And with the red tape that Congress requires in order to get something of this magnitude passed, it could be many years before Honest Abe’s face disappears from our pocket change. But, if the penny does go, Mr. Lincoln will still be honored on the more valuable (and less costly to produce in relation to its value) $5 bill.

Monday, May 20th, 2013 Blog No Comments

Wheat Penny Sells for $1 Million

It’s incredible how costly a mistake can be–especially when it means that a penny sells for $1 million.  In late 2012, Bob Simpson, of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers, bought a Lincoln Head Wheat Penny, which was made as a mistake. Cast out of bronze instead of zinc covered steel as it should have been that year, this coin is believed to be exceptionally rare. And Mr. Simpson paid a pretty penny for it–one million dollars worth, to be exact.

History of the 1943 Penny

World War II efforts in 1943 caused a short supply of copper, which was the main ingredient in the penny at the time. Instead, it was decided that pennies that year would be made out of steel and covered in zinc in order to preserve the more important copper for manufacturing ammunition and parts for military use. The new composite pennies were sometimes known as the “white penny”. Many of these pennies may show a silver color peeping through from behind the zinc covering. It can easily be distinguished as a steel penny with a quick magnet check. Steel is attracted to magnets–copper is not.

In 1943, when the composition of pennies was changed to zinc covered steel, just a few of them were erroneously minted on copper planchets, presumably left over from the previous year. These rare pennies have the standard Lincoln head on the front and ONE CENT on the back, flanked by wheat sheafs. Some reports may also refer to these mistake pennies as bronze, as they were technically an alloy of copper mixed with 5% tin and zinc. The error in minting this particular coin purchase by Simpson was made at the San Francisco Mint, and experts believe there were less than twenty of these mistake coins ever made. Only four of them of the 1943-S error pennies are accounted for today, and Mr. Simpson owns the best of them.


Popular Wheat Pennies

Because of the first mistake penny that showed up in 1947, wheat pennies from 1943 quickly became items people thought might be valuable one day. This meant that many people saved the wheat pennies instead of spending them, just in case they were truly copper. For the steel pennies covered in zinc, the collection of wheat pennies didn’t do much to add to their value. They are now worth about fifteen cents each because of their novelty.

The wheat pennies that were worth saving were the few bronze mistakes that made their way out of the mint into circulation. Once it was known that these bronze 1943 pennies existed, people began trying to replicate them. Thefore, many fakes exist which people hoped to pass off as a rare and valuable Lincoln copper. For instance, after 1943 pennies were again minted out of bronze. Some folks took this opportunity to try to forge duplicates of the 1943 bronze pennies. Attempting to increase the value of the 1948 wheat pennies, they cut the 8 in half to make a 3. These fakes are fairly obvious, however, and will only fool novices. Avid collectors are fully aware of these schemes to create false value in the 1943 wheat pennies and this just enhances the rarity of the actual Lincoln coppers from that year.


A Complete Collection

The Professional Coin Grading Service attests to the authenticity of this rare Lincoln copper purchased by Simpson from a coin dealer in New Jersey. PCGS has a grading scale from 1 to 70 for coins, and this 1943-S penny ranked as Secure Plus Mint State 62. It was in fairly good shape without much damage, so it likely was held by someone for some time rather than in circulation for all of those years.

When Simpson was a child, he ran across one of these fakes and was quite disappointed to discover it was lacking in value. Now, it seems, he has made up for it.

Simpson has been an avid coin collector for many years. One of his other 1943 Lincoln coppers was purchased at a record  $1.7 million. That wheat penny was minted in Denver, and Simpson was in negotiations with the previous owner for several years before finally agreeing on the purchase. The anonymous previous owner of the 1943-D apparently donated all of the profits from the sale of that coin to charity.

Simpson added this most recent $1 million coin to two other rare wheat pennies minted in Denver (the $1.7 million coin) and Philadelphia as mistakes in 1943, each with their own stories behind the rare finds. This San Francisco version of the 1943 Lincoln copper wheat penny serves to complete Simpson’s collection. He now has three of the rarest pennies struck in the 20th century, one from each mint that was in production during 1943.

Monday, April 29th, 2013 Blog No Comments

Buying Coins Online

Buying coins online can be a great way to supplement a collection without going to a distant coin shop, or waiting for that swap meet weekend to buy a new item for your collection.  The availability and ease of coin shopping online have there benefits over brick and mortar stores, but there are some drawbacks to buying your coins online.  To decide if the online venture is right for you, and to decrease the odds that you are unhappy with any online purchase you do make, just follow this easy guide.

It must be said first and foremost, that it is definitely easier to be fooled or scammed over an online coin transaction than in a brick and mortar store.  Online buyers need to be alert, savvy, and scrutinizing over every aspect of a purchase, to ensure that you remain satisfied with your decision.  Online vendors are much less likely to have the vast coin knowledge that a coin shop dealer would have.  Also,  because all information about the coin is provided by the seller online, and is unverifiable until usually after you have paid your money and received your coin, it is vitally important that you double check what you see in the coin to the vendor’s description. Countless times on ebay and other online clearing houses, the as pictured coin varies from the description.  Error coins and other subtle differences are easily glossed over in a low resolution photo, so watch out for “mislabeled” coins.  Always be your own historian, and never blindly trust that an item is depicted exactly as it is shown.

Also, because you are  being robbed of a chance at seeing the coin firsthand before you buy it, you are also being robbed of a chance to objectively grade the coin yourself.  Internet coin dealers know this, and sometimes use ambiguous or undefined terms to describe the coin’s condition.  As condition can be a deciding factor in the price of a coin, this is a big disadvantage.  This can be negated by buying coins that come “slabbed”, or mounted and graded by a professional service.  Bear in mind though, that a professionally graded coin will cost more than an ungraded coin of the same condition.

Remember, when looking online for a seller, be sure to ask about a return policy.  Reputable online merchants will usually accept returns within a reasonable time period, but nefarious and shifty dealers never do.  It is also helpful to communicate as much as possible with the dealer while you are looking online.  Sometimes prices may go down a bit to someone willing to ask for a lower price, and the questions you ask about the coin all go toward ensuring that you know what you get before you pay for it.

Good deals are always to be had for those who look, and hopefully for those who read this guide that search wont take too long or end up in disaster.  Just keep searching.  However a coin collector finds a deal, online or in coin shop, the pursuit is the same, to enjoy the best coins you can, as often as you can.

Monday, January 7th, 2013 Blog No Comments

The Indian Head Cent, The Precursor to the Wheat Cent

The familiar and trusty small copper penny was not always so small, nor always as the rich amber bronze that we instantly recognize as the Lincoln Cent.  Before the introduction of the Lincoln Wheat Ear Cent in 1909, there was another much loved, bright copper penny in the pockets of Americans, the Indian Head Cent.   It established the look and the color of the “new” cent fifty years earlier, at a time when the public still clung to the heavy, large, familiar Braided Hair Cent.  The Indian Head Cent would eventually become as liked as the old large cents, but fate, and Theodore Roosevelt, gave us the familiar Lincoln Head Cent we use today.

Over 150 years ago, the standard penny weighed about three times as much as the penny of today.  At a massive 13.48 grams of pure copper, the “large cent” certainly felt large in your pocket.  So when the U.S. Mint, in an effort to reduce the demand of copper, changed the weight and correspondingly the size of the standard cent to a tiny 4.67 grams, the public thought it was being duped.  At first people hoarded the old cents, and discounted the new issues as fakes.  Of course, it did not help that the first small cent, the Flying Eagle Cent,  issued in 1856, was so lightly colored and pale through the addition of nickel to the copper that were called “nickels” long before the first 5 cent piece to carry that name.

In order to remedy these problems the U.S. Mint introduced the Indian Head Cent in 1859 and was in continuous production until 1909.  The new coin was better in many ways, first it was the distinct copper color a penny should be.  This was due to the removal of nickel and the substitution of tin and zinc to the copper (so technically speaking the Indian Head Cent, and Wheat Penny for that matter, are bronze, not copper).  The Indian Head Cent was also easier to produce than the Flying Eagle Cent, and the design was well regarded as beautiful and befitting a U.S. coin.  So why was it replaced?  The answer lies in one man’s vision, Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt wanted to revamp the state of U.S. coins at the turn of the twentieth century.  He belived that America needed new coinage to keep up with the new coinage from Europe.  So, as popular and internationally known medal and coin engraver St. Gaudains had recently put his talents to the Dollar,  and as Roosevelt wanted a chance to honor Abraham Lincoln, T.R. instigated a campaign to win public support for the idea of placing Lincoln’s image an a new one cent coin.  Because Lincoln was even more popular in the 1900’s then as he is today, Roosevelt soon had the support he needed to change the coin.

With the new coin’s introduction in 1909, the era of the Indian Head Cent was over, but not lost.  These cents are now highly valued in the their proud owner’s collections, and hopefully will remain there for some time.

Monday, December 31st, 2012 Blog No Comments

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